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Mainstream, VOL L, No 38, September 8, 2012

NAM Summit: Course Correction at Tehran

Thursday 13 September 2012, by Arun Mohanty


As the heat and dust on the NAM Summit in Tehran settle, it is time to take stock of the results of the event. Despite vociferous US objections and relentless media-baiting, the five-day 16th NAM Summit at Tehran successfully came to an end with the approval of its final communiqué called the Tehran Declaration. The 700-paragraph document unanimously declared support for Iran’s nuclear energy programme, condemned imposition of unilateral economic sanctions against any nation and called for greater efforts to support the Palestinian cause. The need to combat Islamophobia and racism throughout the world as well as global nuclear disarmament were some of the high points in the Tehran Declaration.

Special attention was given to the Palestinian issue with a call for the release of all Palestinian prisoners and five measures towards resolution of the long standing issue. Iran has expressed its readiness to host the Palestinian groups’ negotiations in a move to unite them. The Palestinian delegation welcomed the idea and described it as practical. The participation of the Palestinian delegation headed by its President, Mahmoud Abbas, at the Tehran Summit angered Israel so much that its Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman asked for the Palestinian leader’s assassination. Along with the threat to kill Abbas, which is a clear case of state terrorism, the Israeli Foreign Minister used unacceptable language to insult 120 NAM members, calling them ‘terrorists’.

The Tehran Declaration called for a nuclear-free Middle East, which will catch the US and West by the wrong foot. While the US and West have launched a worldwide campaign against Iran’s nuclear programme alleging that Tehran is planning to make nuclear weapons, they do not have any objection whatsoever to Israel having its nuclear arsenal. The NAM and Iranian call to make the Middle East nuclear free has exposed the West’s hypocrisy and double standards on the issue.

There were some disappointments too at the Teheran Summit. Belying expectations, the Tehran Summit could not produce a strong resolution on Syria. On the Syrian situation, the final Declaration noted that the NAM Chairman would consult with the countries which are interested in the Syrian issue and prepare a report. An important step has been taken to establish a group of friends of the NAM Chairman or the NAM troika consisting of Egypt, Iran and Venezuela, the NAM’s former, current and future Chairmen to resolve the Syrian crisis. Working Groups have been envisaged in the communiqué for revising the UN structure and strengthening the NAM position.

The NAM’s current Chairman, Iran, plans to set up a temporary secretariat of the NAM, the first one in the Movement’s history, that would employ 1000 people. If the experiment becomes successful, it would provide justification for setting up a permanent NAM Secretariat.

The NAM Summit’s final communiqué is always approved unanimously and, given the structure and disparate membership of the Movement, a better document could not have been comprehended. However, the Tehran Summit would be remembered not for its final communiqué but for many other things.

First of all, the Summit turned out to be a success despite strong opposition from the sole superpower, the US. Even a number of Western media has gone to the extent of calling the event a success and a victory of Iran against the West. The presence of 24 Presidents, 3 Kings, 8 Prime Ministers and fifty Foreign Ministers, despite tremendous US pressure, proved that it is premature to bury the NAM. Even many of the US client states sent fairly high-level delegations to the Tehran summit. For example. The Saudi delegation to the NAM Summit was headed by a Deputy Foreign Minister, the son of King Abdulla.

Secondly, triggering a lot of speculation in the geopolitical sphere, Egypt’s newly elected President Mursi attended the Tehran Summit, which became the first ever visit by an Egyptian head of state to Iran in more than three decades after the Islamic Revolution in that country in 1979. Experts believe that a thaw in Iran-Egypt relations is in the offing. Egypt is clearly sending a signal that it intends to bring changes in its foreign policy agenda.

Thirdly, the Tehran Summit debunked the myth about Iran’s total international isolation with the presence of delegations from 120 countries and 17 observer-states at the conclare. Indeed the timing of the 16th NAM Summit could not have been any better, as the US and Israel continue their tirade to isolate and destabilise the government in Teheran through imposition of unilateral and inhuman sanctions, computer virus attacks, assassination of its nuclear scientists and possible links to terrorist outfits. For Iran, the final result of the NAM Summit at Tehran, the largest international gathering in the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, amounted to the strongest mani-festation of support for Iran’s nuclear energy rights in its standoff with the West. The unani-mous approval of the final document seriously undermines the US stand that Iran is an internationally isolated pariah state. The Teheran Declaration not only emphasises Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy but acknowledges the right to ownership of a full nuclear fuel cycle, which means uranium enrichment. The NAM Summit was a clear setback for the US and West who have been campaigning to isolate Iran.

Fourthly, the Tehran Summit would be a reminder to all those who have been questioning the relevance and utility of the NAM after the Soviet collapse followed by the end of the Cold War and bipolar world.

The NAM, which has lost some of its glory, lustre, strength over the years, does need a fresh lease of life through a new vision, a new leadership. But it is difficult to bury it as long as the forces of neocolonialism, neo-imperialism continue their assault on the independent-minded sovereign developing countries. Those who are in a hurry to bury the Movement will have to wait for long. The NAM would continue to exist as long as the West-led NATO continues its policy of regime-range, unilateral military action, arms-twisting, blackmailing and gunboat diplomacy throwing all norms of international law and civilised behaviour in global affairs to the winds. The NAM would continue to remain a powerful Movement and a large block of world leaders from the South, who are opposed to the neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism, manifest in the economic policies imposed on the developing world by means of the inter-national financial institutions controlled by the West.

Despite the media outcry and the US urging it to quit the NAM, India did well by sending its delegation headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the Tehran Summit. India’s participation in the Summit in the backdrop of US pressure provided boost to its international prestige reassuring the world that it is not yet a client state, and reflected its commitment to the Movement. Prime Minister Dr Singh, in his speech, talked about the necessity for improvement in global governance. Dr Singh, focusing on the 21st century issues of global governance, said ”the deficit in global governance is perhaps most stark in the sphere of international peace and security and in restoring just and fair economic and financial order”.

Dr Singh’s speech also brought much-needed clarity in India’s West Asia policy and reflected our age-old principle against external intervention in sovereign countries in the name of democracy and human rights. In this connection, Dr Singh said West Asia and North America are undergoing profound change. As the world’s largest democracy, India supports popular aspirations for a democratic and a pluralistic order. Nevertheless, such transformations cannot be prompted by external interventions, which exacerbate the sufferings of ordinary citizens. On Syria, Dr Singh pleaded that the NAM should take a stand on the issue in keeping with the universally accepted principles, adding: ”We should urge all parties to recommit themselves to resolving the crisis peacefully through a Syrian-led inclusive political process that can meet the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens.” Dr Singh’s statement at Tehran dispelled misgivings about the Indian stand on the Syrian issue stemming from its much-misunderstood voting patterns in the UN SC and UN GA.

The Prime Minister’s statement on the Palestinian issue was also re-assuring and very welcome when he said the Nam should renew its pledge to support its early resolution so that the long-suffering people live in peace and dignity in their home state. The Prime Minister’s reference, coming in the wake of concerted efforts by the US and West through sections of the media and diplomatic demarches to belittle the NAM and its host, will provide impetus to the Movement.

All this apart, the Summit offered a wonderful opportunity to India to reap dividends through meetings with Iran’s highest spiritual leadership as well as with leaders from our neighbouring countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
The Prime Minister’s meetings with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatola Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad were accorded pride of place during his visit to Teheran.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with the Iranian supreme leader, Syed Ali Khamenei, the first such interaction between an Indian Prime Minister and the Iranian supremo in over a decade, was extremely cordial and productive. Extolling Mahatma Gandhi’s role in India’s freedom struggle and lauding Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founder’s of the NAM, Khamenei stressed that he was deeply impressed by Gandhi’s brilliant visage and recalled his heroic struggle in South Africa. Emphasising that the positions taken by Nehru flowed from Gandhi’s struggle and helped create the NAM, Khamenei recalled his meetings with Indian leaders Indira Gandhi and Narasimha Rao. The Iranian supreme leader endorsed the idea of facilitating India’s access to Afghanistan through implementation of the Chabahar preject, which would be an inexpensive route as compared to the Northern Distribution Network used by the NATO forces and a viable alternative to access Afghanistan through Pakistan.

India sometime back had a trilateral meeting with Iran and Afghanistan on developing this alternative route from Chabahar to Afghanistan and on to Central Asia.

During the Prime Minister‘s meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both sides resolved to continue high-level engage-ments by agreeing to hold the next meeting of the Indo-Iranian Intergovernmental Commission at the Foreign Ministers’ level in November. Both countries have resolved to work around hurdles imposed by the US and Western sanc-tions to step up economic cooperation. The Prime Minister and Iranian President exchanged views on a host of regional and international issues, particularly developments in Afghanistan, Syria and West Asia. In this respect, they stressed the need for international cooperation to effectively combat the sourge of terrorism which poses a grave threat to peace and security in the region.

On the whole, India’s performance at Tehran is a matter of satisfaction and fully justified the Prime Minister’s participation in the 16th NAM Summit. While Iran would preside over the Movement for the next three years, Venezuela, another sovereign and freedom-loving country, would receive the baton from Tehran three years later. This gives hope that the NAM would function with some vigour in the coming six years, providing the Movement a new vision and momentum.

Dr Arun Mohanty is a Professor at the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is also the Director of the Eurasian Foundation.

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